The Future of English Studies II: English Studies in Ruins?

Chair: Sarah Lewis, KCL

Speakers:

Helen Tyson, Sussex- ‘One of the best Professors of Literature of our time’?: Virginia Woolf and English Studies Then and Now

Benjamin Poore, Queen Mary University of London – Employability with Hannah Arendt: English, Work, and the Common World.

This panel reflects on the challenges facing English Studies today through twomethodologically diverse papers that showcase a range of early career research. Mildrid Bjerke’s paper interrogates the role of the literature study guide for A-Level, suggesting it is implicated not just in neoliberal instrumentalism, but also in another form of utility – one that is pedagogical, aesthetic, and anxious about its own compromise of the disinterested ideal. Helen Tyson’s paper retraces the roots of this ideal and charts Virginia Woolf’s criticisms of the newly-formed discipline of English studies and the disinterested, masculine literature students imagined by early proponents of the English degree, including I. A. Richards, F. R. and Q. D. Leavis. Thinking about how we might teach Woolf’s alternative portraits of reading in the twenty-first-century classroom, Tyson suggests that Woolf’s imagined readers solicit a self-reflexive form of reading, through which we might confront our own personal, social, and political investments in literary texts.

Continuing to consider today’s climate for literary study, Ben Poore intervenes in debates around the discipline and employability, drawing on the writing Hannah Arendt and her conception of the activity of thinking and her category of ‘work’. Poore suggests we might find in conversations around employability not simply a moment of crisis or challenge but rather a pretext for thinking about how the activities we cherish inside the classroom and university can make a greater purchase on a wider public realm.

Friday 7th July, 3.30